This Question That Haunts Christianity series is now an occasional series, as opposed to weekly. But I’ll still field questions and do my best to answer. Directions on how you can submit a question below. Today’s question comes from reader Pat, and it concerns a contentious post by Roger Olson last week:
Last week, I read Roger Olson’s attack on process theology, and then I saw your tweet on the controversy:
— Tony Jones (@jonestony) December 6, 2013
I, too, am attracted to relational and process theologies, but I’m struggled with the feeling I get from process that God is not really very special, that God’s not unique. That’s why your tweet got my attention, so my question is this: Is God ontologically unique from the rest of creation?
(Let me begin by apologizing for the formatting and lack of links on this post. I am dictating it to my phone as I drive to South Dakota for the last hunt of the season. Even so, I wanted to start the conversation about God’s uniqueness and distinctiveness on this blog, to follow up from the posts on Homebrewed Christianity and Roger Olson’s blog.)
The theological innovation of Judaism, vis-à-vis their ancient neighbors, was that God is one. This monotheism may have been a soft monotheism at first, but by midway through the Old Testament, it had clearly become a hard monotheism. Jews came to believe unequivocally that Yahweh was not only above all other gods, but that the Lord was indeed the only God.
While the Hebrews did not use the modern philosophical categories that we now use, it is pretty clear in reading the Hebrew Scriptures that Yahweh is ontologically distinct from the rest of creation. This is first articulated in the two creation accounts in Genesis. From there it becomes clear that Yahweh is not like the warring gods of Mount Olympus. Nor is God like the great mind in the sky of Hellenistic philosophy. Instead, Yahweh is the distinct and unique creator of all that is.
In fact, it is Yahweh’s role as creator, Explicitly articulated in Genesis and repeated through out the Hebrew Bible, that makes God ontologically distinct by definition.
Although process theologians are correct to say that creatio ex nihilo is not explicit in Genesis, they are incorrect to argue that it is not implicit. From the earliest times, Hebrews and Hellenistic early Christians have seen that God created all that is out of nothing. This is yet another indication of God’s ontological uniqueness.
In my forthcoming book, I will state in the strongest possible terms that God’s story is a story of self-limitation. However, God’s’s voluntary self limitation does not in any way compromise God ontological uniqueness
In conclusion, God as creator is an important theme through out the Old and New Testaments. And God as creator indicates that God is ontologically distinct from creation.